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Government under pressure as campaign hots up against FOBTs

Written by Professor Jim Orford on .

campaign is hotting up against the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs)The campaign is hotting up against the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) and the harm they are causing to gamblers and their families and communities. The government is under increasing pressure to do something about them and the betting shop industry is on the defensive.

The response of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) has been to produce a voluntary Code of Conduct, already put into operation on March 1st without any public consultation. I hope no one, least of all the government, will be taken in by this. Its purpose, I suggest, is to make it look as if it is doing something significant to reduce the harm caused by FOBTs (although there is no acknowledgement that the FOBTs are themselves harmful), thereby heading off any changes to the regulations which would have a real impact on harm and which might reduce betting company profits substantially. What the ABB has proposed is weak and likely to be ineffective. A player would be allowed to state personal spending and time limits at the beginning of play ('voluntary pre-commitment') and would be alerted if a limit was reached, and in any case would be alerted if £250 or half an hour had been spent playing. Once alerted, the player would then be forced to take a 30-second break in play. Although this represents a small move in the right direction, it will be recognised by most players who have had difficulties with machine gambling as unlikely to have much impact on their gambling.

Most importantly, it leaves in place, unaltered in all essential respects, these fast, high-stake, highly addictive machines. The necessary action would be far stronger. Amongst the options are: the proposal by the very effective Campaign for Fairer Gambling that the maximum stake allowed per play should be reduced from the current £100 to the £2 which is the standard maximum for other kinds of gambling machine ('slot' or 'fruit' machines); the removal of FOBTs from high street betting shops altogether, confining them to casinos, which is the Gambling Watch UK suggestion; giving Local Authorities the powers which they currently lack to control gambling on their high streets, including the power to vote to make an area an 'FOBT-free zone'; or 'mandatory pre-commitment', proposed in Australia to deal with the harm caused by their high-powered gambling machines (the 'pokies'), whereby a player would be required (not just invited) to set a personal spending limit at the outset of play, and would be excluded from playing further (not just for 30 seconds!) if that limit was reached. At a meeting in the House of Commons on March 4th, chaired by Graham Jones MP, the Campaign for Fairer Gambling put their case. They presented up-to-date information, broken down by region and local authority area, about the numbers of betting shops per capita, the numbers of FOBTs and the amount of money spent playing them – all greater in more deprived areas (see their new website for details).

One of the most worrying aspects of the weak betting industry proposals is the way in which the names of prominent individuals or organisations have been used to endorse them. Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham University and the National organisation GamCare, both of whose organisations receive money from the gambling industry, are quoted prominently by ABB in support of their new Code of Conduct. We have become used in Britain to a situation in which individuals and organisations with special knowledge and expertise, who might speak out against the harmful expansion of gambling, have in effect been silenced because of their links with the industry. But this goes further still – the deliberate exploitation of academic and other experts in support of industry actions which are at the very least questionable and which in the opinion of Gambling Watch UK are contrary to the interests of public health.

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Comments (2)

  • Steve Permalink

    Just lost £800 machine gave me no chance,got home broke down cried my eyes out. Why are they allowed on our high street! You should need to sign up for a card to play,or bring in the £2 limit play ,it's killing thousands of ppl life's .

    about 3 years ago
  • peter Permalink

    Some time ago I was sat having a pint with a few mates in the pub, we were watching racing on the TV , decided to go in the bookies next door, place a bet and see how they get on , When we went in a man on one FOBT Had a balance of 8500 pounds showing, Wow we thought before returning to the pub to watch the race , 15 or 20 mins had passed and it was time to go back in the betting shop as one of us had won, the man who had the huge FOTB Balance was now at the counter, his machine balance was on zero and he was handing over a credit card asking for 200 pound to be put on the machine that 20 mins earlier had a 8500 pound balance. These machines are totally and utterly ruthless. I myself have lost a fortune in them. Any one wanting to play should have a photographic I-D Card that slots in the machine, and allow a player to gamble no more than 200 per day . or something similar, do anything to make it more difficult for people to get into serious financial trouble which leads to all the other bad symptoms which follow , depression, criminal activity , family break ups, job losses , these are all symptoms of this legal evil on our door steps.

    about 2 years ago

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